Saskatoon

Impending tax hikes deter council members to run in small-town elections

The next council elected in Saltcoats, Sask., can expect to make some tough, unpopular decisions in the coming year and it’s affecting the number of candidates seeking election this fall according to the town’s mayor.

Ministry of Government Relations needed to appoint interim members

The town of Saltcoats called on the provincial government to help appoint interim councillors for the upcoming election. (Town of Saltcoats)

The next council elected in Saltcoats, Sask., can expect to make some tough, unpopular decisions in the coming year and it's affecting the number of candidates seeking election this fall according to the town's mayor.

In fact, the town about 215 kilometres northeast of Regina only had enough interest to fill the mayor's seat and two town councillor positions, leaving four councillor seats vacant.

Mayor Grant McCallum, acclaimed to lead the the next council, said decades of minimal tax increases in the 80s and 90s have left the town of about 500 people on the hook for some major increases in the coming years in light of big infrastructure projects the town needs to move ahead on sooner than later.

"There are going to be some tough decisions to be made, unpopular decisions to come up with a plan to raise that money and it's going to involve some tax hikes," McCallum told CBC News.

He added this year's municipal agenda includes a couple of multi-million-dollar projects including a lagoon expansion, upgrades to the water treatment plant and road resurfacing. McCallum said Public Works also needs a suitable shop because right now they're using an old theatre.

To my knowledge this has never happened in the town.- Diane Jamieson, Saltcoats administrator

"The way costs have gone up, the predicament we're in wasn't foreseen and the town is in a decent cash position, it's just that we don't have reserves to pull off a number of these projects all at once so … there will be some tax increases which are more than what the folks are used to," he said. "Clearly we find ourselves in the 2000s without reserves to maintain or upgrade and even improve the current infrastructure."

Province steps in to help

Without enough candidates to even make quorum, the town administration reached out to intergovernmental affairs in the ministry of government relations to assist in filling those council vacancies.

A spokesperson for the province said as a result of the vacancies, they worked with the town to appoint three interim councillors for the town of Saltcoats based off of recommendations from the town office about who could fill those seats until a Dec.14 byelection.

"If no candidates come forward in the byelection for the vacant positions the town will put out a call for further nominations for candidates in an effort to fill those vacancies," the government said.

Nominations for the byelection close Nov. 9.

Diane Jamieson, town administrator for Saltcoats said the ministry appointed a previous councillor who was willing to stay on in the interim, a former mayor willing to take on a councillor seat on an interim basis and a local who works at the Credit Union in town.

"To my knowledge this has never happened in the town," Jamieson said.

According to the ministry of government relations it is relatively uncommon for the ministry to appoint interim council members when a municipality loses quorum.

On average over the past five years only 0.2 per cent of Saskatchewan's 779 municipalities required the ministry's assistance to appoint interim council members.

This election period the ministry is actually appointing interim council members in four municipalities including Saltcoats, the Village of Briercrest, Village of Brownlee and the Town of Grenfell. Saskatchewan's civic elections take place Oct. 26.

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